The Lure of Laos
When I was a young man growing up in America, the Mekong River, especially in Vietnam was associated with war and bloodshed. Here we are at breakfast and at sunset on the Mekong in Luang Prabang, Laos. It is hard to imagine a more peaceful and tranquil place. When you look at these scenes, it holds a lot of promise for world peace especially in those areas that are currently in upheaval. One day soon we will be tourists there snapping beautiful photos
Laos is a relative poor country. It is landlocked in between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China. While we were there, I spent most of my time in nature visiting the rivers and waterfalls by trekking or biking. Debby was a bit ill so she opted for cooking and weaving when we were in Luang Prabang.
Laos is made up of basically three groups. The Hmong, Khmu, and the Lao. The Hmong are also in other countries having migrated from China about 200 years ago. During the war with America they sided more with Americas so many of them became refugees after the war. There are actually more Hmong in American now than in SE Asia, nearly 500,000. The pictures below show the difference in the economics of village life versus the city. These are Khmu children. You can see that the attendance is fairly good, but the resources are pretty lacking. The city picture shows a better state.
Village life is pretty difficult as most are rice farmers. The women do a lot more work than the men especially when it is not planting season. Like other places in Asia it just seems like the equality between men and women is one of the really major issues. The following two pictures show what men do during the day versus women.
Debby took a great course in weaving, where the students went out to pick the materials for the dyes from nature, then prepared the dye for silk, and finally did the weaving. Here are a few pics.
She also took a cooking class. It began, like most classes in Asia, at the local market to see how to pick fresh food and then proceeded to a lot of cooking.
Most of my time in Luang Prabang was spent in nature including trekking and biking, being on the river and at waterfalls.
When you travel to SE Asia and sign up for adventures like this, you always get really interesting guides who know a great deal about their country. Because they speak English and have chosen a different kind of life path, they are particular interested in developing themselves. Here is my guide on my bike trip. His friends were kidding him all day because he was wearing soccer socks.
Since we had spent so much time in Myanmar exploring temples and Buddhism, we didn’t do so much of it here in Laos. The majority of Laotians are Buddhism while the Hmong and Khmu practice more native spiritualism. Because it was also a French colony, there are a fair number of Catholics. The monks that we saw in the monasteries were pretty young like early to middle teens. We had seen this in Myanmar, but not to such a wide extent. Most monks wake up early in morning, chant and prayer, and then go out into the local markets for people to give them food. They eat their last meal before noon and then will only usually have tea after that. Their behavior in public is pretty reserved and non-interactive, but the behavior inside the monasteries is often quite active and playful like you would expect from most teens.
We met with some of the members of the Baha’i community on a couple of occasions in Vientiane. On this occasion we gave a presentation at Tim and Diana Shaffter’s home. Tim is the director of UNICEF for Laos. They have lived in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos and other places and can speak fairly good Lao.
Hunting is a huge problem in the country. Because of the lack of resources the wildlife are not in abundance. This is a billboard in Vientiane that we saw that we really liked.
Here is some East meets West food. Pizza with dried river weed (like dried seaweed) and Laotian sausage.
And this was just a good combo, corn on the cob, spring rolls, papaya salad, and mixed kebab.
Right next to this food fair is the first fast food type place that has been allowed to be in the country, Swenson’s Ice Cream, so of course we had to partake of it. Letting in the West is a mixed blessing in most countries. The need for development and people entering the new century is important, but there is a great need for education in basic human values like honesty, trustworthiness, cooperation, equality, and justice.
It was a great blessing to be in Laos. It is just one of those places that everyone should visit. Can’t wait to return.